Iowa colleges seeing increase in transfer students

Schools making efforts to ease transition for students

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IOWA CITY — An uptick in the number of community college transfer students enrolling at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University in recent years is driven partly by a more-focused push for those students and more articulation agreements between the regent universities and Iowa’s two-year colleges, officials said.

Comparing fall 2012 enrollment to data from 2008 shows increases in community college transfers of more than 15 percent at both the UI and ISU. For both schools, community college transfer enrollment increased at a higher rate than did overall enrollment in that time.

“We had spent a lot of time thinking about our brand-new freshmen, but there was a feeling on campus that we didn’t want to neglect another big group of students, the transfer students,” Beth Ingram, UI associate provost for undergraduate education, said. “It was time to start thinking more specifically about that group.”

The UI, ISU and the University of Northern Iowa all have initiatives targeted at community college students, like special campus visit days and advisers who work directly with those students even before they enroll.

Articulation agreements

Another big part of the picture, officials say, are the myriad transfer and articulation agreements the universities have with Iowa’s 15 community colleges. Some of the agreements are broad, at the regent level, while others are more tailored between specific degree programs. Some have been in place for decades, with new ones added frequently.

There are more than 1,000 active program-to-program articulation agreements between the universities and Iowa community colleges, said UI Admissions Director Mike Barron. A website,, is a one-stop resource where students can learn about the process.

“We’ve become so deliberate about that and so public about that and have all these online resources, I think that facilitates and makes transfer easier,” he said.

Senior Matt Heinze transferred to the UI in 2011 after three semesters at Kirkwood Community College. He said cost is big factor for a lot of students who, like him, choose the community college path first. It also can make the transition from high school to a large university easier, he said.

As an intern in the UI admissions office, Heinze now works with incoming students and often talks with potential transfers about his experience.

“I had always heard horror stories that you would take classes and that they wouldn’t transfer, but much to my surprise, that was not the case,” the 24-year-old history major said. “I didn’t have to worry about losing credits.”

While the UI and ISU saw growth in this population, UNI saw both total enrollment and the enrollment of community college transfers decline from fall 2008 to 2012. But that transfer population remains a key part of UNI’s demographic, one official said. Bob Frederick last fall added director of community college relations to his UNI duties. The new role helps UNI maintain and enhance relationships with community colleges, he said.

“Seven out of 10 students at UNI have credit from a community college in Iowa,” he said. “What are the opportunities and what are the challenges, to make sure we have a transparent and easy flow of students.”

Good relationships

Relationships between the universities and community colleges are good, which helps make the agreements successful, said Kristie Fisher, Kirkwood vice president for student services.

“It’s hard to find a week when the (Iowa) transfer adviser is not on our campus,” she said. “The regents have really invested in making sure they have staff available to work with community college transfer students.”

Kelsie Hopkins, a UI junior from Solon, visits Kirkwood’s Cedar Rapids and Iowa City campuses several times each semester as a transfer intern with UI admissions. Hopkins, 20, attended Kirkwood for a year before enrolling at Iowa. Students tend to ask questions about their credits transferring, and about what kind of experience they’ll find at the university and how it will be different, she said.

Just as the universities have programs to recruit and advise community college students before they set foot on campus, there are other initiatives aimed at easing the social and academic transition once they arrive.

The UI Provost’s Office last fall granted $85,000 after the campus Transfer Think Tank hatched some proposals. Sarah Hansen, assistant vice president in the UI division of student life, launched the Transfer Think Tank with some colleagues after they repeatedly heard concerns about serving that population.

Among the new programs funded with the grant are a virtual transfer student success center, peer-mentoring for transfer students and academic support workshops tailored to those students.

“Transfer students view themselves as experienced college students, so we can’t just take what works for first-year, first-time college students,” Hansen said. “It really is an expansion of a conversation we’ve been having over the last few years around undergraduate student success, for this population that is at higher risk for not being retained.”

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